Healing a City and Nation with Design

The south pool of Memorial plaza is lit up on a blue, cloudless evening in lower Manhattan.
Architect Gary Handel said his firm looked to create “a place that is a catalyst for the continuing transformation of lower Manhattan.” Photo by Jin Lee.

Architects shape more than skylines. They transform neighborhoods, cities and societies. For Handel Architects, the firm that designed the 9/11 Memorial, they also helped rebuild a city and heal a nation after 9/11.

Gary Handel of Handel Architects recently sat down for a Q&A with New York Spaces, a home design magazine. Among other things, he talked about the memorial and his partner, Michael Arad, who before joining Handel worked as a New York City Housing Authority architect when he won the international competition to design the memorial. Berkeley, Calif.-based architect Peter Walker was chosen as the memorial’s landscape designer.

“Working with partner Michael Arad, the team and I spent eight years trying to craft a solution that would capture the emotional power of the response to the 2001 event, while creating a place that is a catalyst for the continuing transformation of lower Manhattan,” Handel said in the interview published Feb. 27. “The open design of the memorial is meant to foster the democratic values of public assembly that played such a pivotal role in New York City's collective response to the terrorist attacks.”

The memorial’s design is intended to be a living part of the city and demonstrate strength and resilience, said Handel, whose firm began in New York City in 1994. He also acknowledged that the design and rebuilding process, given the multiple interest groups, was exposed to “a difficult but necessary public examination of the goals and means of the rebuilding.”

“The engagement of so many diverse voices was often contentious but ultimately a positive and necessary step in the rebuilding,” he said.

By 9/11 Memorial Staff

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